Scottish solicitors have voted against the planned introduction of alternative business structures (ABSs), it was announced today.
Some 1,817 members of the Law Society of Scotland voted for a motion put by the Scottish Law Agents Society that only solicitors should be able to own practices which offer reserved legal services. There were 1,290 in favour, and five abstentions. The current policy of the society’s ruling council supports ABSs.
A compromise amendment proposed at the society’s reconvened special general meeting by Richard Masters from McGrigors – under which firms would need to have a majority of solicitor-owners – was rejected, even though a hand vote at the meeting was strongly in favour (by 74 votes to 18).
However, the vote does not mean that the Legal Services (Scotland) Bill currently before the Scottish parliament will fail as a result. Ian Smart, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “There has however to be some cognisance that the government and the parliament will not dance to the tune of our profession and if we are divided it simply gives them carte blanche to do as they like.”
Mr Smart said it was unfortunate that there had been no consensus at the meeting, “although the society will remain in discussion with all interested parties, including the law agents, following their stated intention at the close of the meeting to work with the society. It’s vital that we remain and move forward as a unified profession despite these divergent views”.
The vote opposing the introduction of ABSs will now be put to the society’s council, which will consider both this SGM vote and the narrow vote in favour of ABSs in a referendum earlier this month (see story). Mr Smart said: “The difficult thing is not so much the differing results between the referendum and today’s vote but rather the large numbers on both sides in both votes. Obviously both sides would prefer an agreed way forward but equally it may be that the differences are unbridgeable. I, however, have not given up hope.”
The council will meet on 30 April ahead of the society’s AGM in May. “We also agreed we will continue our dialogue with MSPs and the Scottish government over amendments to the Bill,” Mr Smart added.